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OPINION: Respecting nurses is the key to a health care system that runs as it should

Nurses at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert are no longer immune to the conditions that have afflicted rural and larger sites for years.

Nurses at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert are no longer immune to the conditions that have afflicted rural and larger sites for years.

As National Nurses Week 2024 approaches, hallway nursing is an everyday occurrence at the Sturgeon, as is chronic overcapacity, even in our neonatal intensive care unit.

Nurses in St. Albert can no longer offer the care they were trained to provide. Most leave at the end of their shift feeling distressed about all the care they couldn’t provide. Many feel burnt out and some are so frustrated they are driven away from our hospital, or out of the nursing profession altogether.

This year, Nurses Week runs from May 6 to 12. Nurses Week is a chance to celebrate the contributions made by nurses and the nursing profession to the well-being of all Canadians. 

At the Sturgeon Community Hospital, members of the United Nurses of Alberta will celebrate the 550 nurses of our local on May 14. 

Our celebrations are delayed because our union will be bargaining during Nurses Week. On May 7, the union bargaining team was at the labour board to address a bad faith bargaining complaint filed by our union against Alberta Health Services. 

It is fitting to celebrate Nurses Week a bit late because nursing is a 24/7 profession. Nurses are used to celebrating when they can, given the nature of shift work. They celebrate holidays and birthdays with their families when they can get the time off, and Nurses Week is no different. 

We will celebrate with a pizza party and prizes for the nurses. We will gather at lunch on the day shift and have food delivered to the nurses working evenings and nights. We won’t leave out any shift.

Pizza and prizes are nice, but what nurses really want for Nurses Week is a fair collective agreement. 

Above all, the Sturgeon’s nurses want respect and safe staffing.

Respect means paying nurses what they are worth. Safe staffing means investments must be made that will put more nurses on the front lines.

Safe staffing means having enough nurses looking after patients to ensure they are safe.

But in addition to facing short staffing, mandatory overtime, and very little time off, nurses in Alberta are no longer compensated as well as nurses in other provinces like British Columbia and Ontario. It will take a good compensation package to recruit and retain nurses in this province as we compete for talent in the midst of a global nursing shortage.

The current government doesn’t seem to understand healthcare (as evidenced by their dismantling of AHS), but they do understand supply and demand. The demand for nurses is high and the supply is limited. 

This Nurses Week, don’t worry about the pizza party. We’ve got that covered. 

If you really want to really show your appreciation for nurses, please tell AHS to bargain in good faith, and the government of Alberta to continue to invest in public health care. 

Tell the government that nurses must be compensated fairly and reckless restructuring must stop. 

What nurses really need is a government focused on respecting nurses, retaining the ones we have, and recruiting more nurses to Alberta.

If they focus on these three things, nurses in Alberta can get back to doing what they do best. Providing high quality, compassionate, safe care to Albertans.

Orissa Shima is a Registered Nurse at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert and the president of United Nurses of Alberta Local 85

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